The Green Bay Packers have made their assistant coaches available to the media throughout this week ahead of the start of OTAs next Monday, and on Thursday it was the offensive assistants’ turn to answer questions. With the Packers needing to find players to fill the wide receiver position, that group’s head coach made some intriguing comments about a few potential contributors — particularly a second-year pro and a newly acquired veteran.
Vrable began his comments by saying he likes the competitiveness in the reception room, then praised a few young players for their development over the spring. “I saw Malik (Taylor) and Juwann (Winfree) and Amari (Rodgers), watching night and day compared to what they did last year. I think it’s the whole way they worked in the offseason, the way they understand the playbook and the way they fly there. It’s a totally different speed.
It’s a promising sign for the depth of this group, especially if Rodgers can become a substantial contributor after a rookie season that has too often seen him relegated exclusively to punt and kick return serve. Rodgers lined up for just 103 offensive snaps in 2021, catching four of eight targets for 45 yards and picking up 11 yards on his only rush attempt.
Vrable was candid about the reason for Rodgers’ limited opportunities last year: he just wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t give Amari the fact that (Randall Cobb) was here. It’s your job to beat Randall or beat our Z. Even if he plays slots, I made him work Z and he already did. His performance was just not up to their level. It’s just reality, right? It wasn’t that he was bad, but he didn’t do the high-level things that Randall did or the Z, Lazard.
For Vrable, Rodgers’ confidence is the factor that needs to change the most, and as he noted, it’s not just verbal confidence, but comfort level and familiarity with the playbook and concepts. routes that are crucial. That seems to be happening for the former Clemson receiver, as Vrable said he already looks faster and stronger than he did as a rookie.
Additionally, he spent a lot of time working on his technique, likely with his mentor and family friend Randall Cobb. “His run is already cleaner and sharper,” Vrable said. “I feel really good with Amari. Cobby bumped into me the other day and was like ‘Yo, you can feel it from him.’ And I just smiled and thought, ‘This is just the beginning right now. We’ll see where he is when the pads come on and the lights come on.
Another of Vrable’s charges this offseason is Sammy Watkins, who signed a free agent contract with the Packers a few weeks ago after a stint with the Baltimore Ravens last year. Vrable was on the Buffalo Bills coaching staff in 2014, the same year Watkins entered the league as Buffalo’s first-round draft pick, so the two have history together.
In fact, Vrable’s past experience with Watkins has made him the front office’s choice to help write scouting reports on the wide when he’s been a free agent in the past. “(I) told them I was with Sammy, I know how he can catch, I know how strong he is, (I know) a lot of good things he can do because I was with him Meanwhile.”
Among the factors Vrable has repeatedly emphasized is Watkins’ ability to catch the football. “One thing you will see with him is that he picks the ball up differently. He has hands that are like, you’ll hear the pinch.
Perhaps more than his physical tools, however, Vrable went out of his way to focus on Watkins’ maturity, something that shone when the two got together for dinner during his free agent visit to Green. Bay this spring.
“We went out to dinner, we got to talk, catch up, hear about his three kids… his maturity has just been exceptional. He was just a young rookie before, now he’s a grown man with a family, living life the right way and doing everything he can to get back to another Lombardi.
Hopefully Watkins and Rodgers can build a solid bond with the other Rodgers on the Packers roster. If that happens, it should help answer one of the biggest remaining questions about whether this Green Bay team is really a prime candidate to bring one of those Lombardi trophies back to Wisconsin.